I no longer bootleg alcohol. Or tampons.

November 9, 2009

It may have been perfectly innocent.

It may just have been three guys shooting the breeze.

But, damn, if it didn’t look like a drug deal going down.

OK, yes, I will admit I’ve never actually seen drugs being exchanged for money in real life. Oh, sure, every second long-hair in Amsterdam offered to sell me something potent when all I was interested in doing was playing tourist. And one fellow traveller did accompany a shady character down an alley when we were both in Hawaii, in an effort to score some Maui Wowie. But I stayed on the main street and wondered if the next time I saw my friend he would be a) behind bars, or b) floating face-down in Pearl Harbor.

Because my addictions are limited to caffeine, The Hockey News and the Internet, I’ve seldom found myself in dubious places where laws might be broken.

Yes, I did say “seldom.” As opposed to “never.”

Years ago, as I rounded the corner of a building in my hometown — deep in thought, intent on my errand — I nearly walked straight into into a large First Nations lad.

“Will you bootleg for me?” he asked and I found myself nodding. Don’t ask me why. My mind was still addled by how close we’d come to blindsiding each other in a collision from which I definitely would have emerged second-best. And I did mention he was big, right? More like huge.

The next thing I know, I’m in the nearby liquor store, the fellow’s $20 bill clutched in my hand, scanning the shelves. He’d asked me to buy a bottle of rye. So, naturally, I’m looking for rye. Except, in my ignorance as a non-drinker, I didn’t realize that what I should have been looking for was rye whiskey.

Several years later, a cheeky girlfriend sent me into a supermarket to buy her tampons. It was like deja vu all over again — that helpless, panicky feeling that I had no idea what I was looking for, while, at the same time, blushing crimson because I knew I looked like an idiot just standing there and staring blankly at the displays.

I did finally grab the first bottle of rye whiskey that caught my eye, paid the difference out of my own pocket because it cost more than $20, and then shoved the paper bag into the waiting fellow’s hand right in front of the store. The smart thing would have been to meet him around the corner — bootlegging being illegal and all — and ask for the rest of the money. But all I wanted was for the embarrassment to be over.

So, today, I’m walking home from downtown and I see these three guys at the far edge of a petrol station’s property. The white guy, judging by his uniform shirt, works at the station. The other two are scruffy-looking Maori males. Now I hate to sound racially insensitive, but you look at the local paper’s Most Wanted ads, and nearly 100 per cent of the felons are Maori or Polynesian. It’s a sad fact of life here in New Zealand.

One Maori man, the fellow with the backpack, is pulling something out of a bag to show the petrol station attendant. It looks, from my vantage point, just like a brick of dope.

But it can’t be, right? I mean, they’re standing right in the open, for chrissakes. If I can see them, so can everyone else driving by or filling up. Surely no one would be that brazen. Or stupid.

I have no idea what was being displayed but I do know it wasn’t Michael Jackson’s latest CD or All Blacks players’ cards.

It just looked suspicious is all I’m saying.

Seconds later, as I continued walking, a cop car cruised past. For a nano-second I thought about flagging it down. But I didn’t. I just kept walking.

If what I saw was innocent, then there was no use wasting the police’s time. If it was something illegal and these guys make a habit out of being so blatantly obvious, then they’ll eventually get nabbed without my help.

Because, whether it’s rye or tampons, helping tends to come back and bite me in the arse.

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